Junkyard 80's Fleet Rescue and Refurb, AKA the only FWC in New Orleans

j_f

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Camper Crew,

Since I’m now finally able to make some decent progress on the camper, I guess it's time to make a build thread. I’ve spent a LOT of time on this site dreaming about truck campers over the past decade (!), so hopefully this will serve as a source of information and inspiration for the next guy (probably what not to do, mostly). It will also serve as a consistent place for me to ask questions of the WTW Brain Trust with necessary context.

Speaking of context: I live in New Orleans with my girlfriend and dog. I run a university outdoor recreation program that takes students backpacking, paddling, hiking, sailing, camping, etc. So the FWC clearly fits well into my lifestyle as the ultimate base camp– that’s why it’s been a bucket list item for so long!

The truck: I drive a 2003 Toyota Tundra TRD with just a hair over 200k miles. It has a camper shell/ Yakima rack over a set of Decked drawers. It has been a perfect Swiss Army setup for my lifestyle that could only be improved with the FWC that I’ve always envisioned– which is why, at my last tire replacement, I opted for E- rated BFGs in preparation for a hypothetical, mythical camper. Gotta be prepared, ya know?

There were two problems. The biggest is that FWCs, as you all know, are pretty rare outside of the Mountain West/ West Coast. In the South/East, a well-priced project camper is practically unobtainuim. I had seen exactly ONE FWC in the wild, and that was on the road, no doubt from points west.

The second problem was storage. I live in a fairly dense urban neighborhood, which is great for most things: I can walk to work on campus, to the grocery store, bars/restaurants, music venues, to the streetcar, etc. But it’s not great for vehicle storage and related projects because I have zero off-street parking. Fortunately, this problem mostly took care of itself when my lovely girlfriend bought a house a few blocks from mine with a driveway the length of the lot. The deal was a simple one: I would help her renovate the house in exchange for driveway storage for my toys… er… equipment. I’m a "professional," so it’s highly critical, work-related equipment.

There was a camper in the driveway within the week.

From a junkyard. In Colorado. I’ll save that story for my next post.

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Having lived in Orleans and Plaquemines Parishes, I think I have an understanding of what you’re going through, and I hope you have some huge fans to blow into the camper as you work on the project.

We look forward to seeing your build.
 
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Having lived in Orleans and Plaquemines Parishes, I think I have an understanding of what you’re going through, and I hope you have some huge fans to blow into the camper as you work on the project.

We look forward to seeing your build.
Oh, do I have a big fan! It's probably responsible for some less-than-pristine paintwork on the interior, but that's a trade I'm willing to make!
 
So the GF hadn’t even closed on the house yet– the one with the driveway and space to work– and I’m already scouring the internet for campers. The timing is horrible, as everything recreation related is still stupid-expensive and hard to find thanks to the go-outside-during-COVID boom.

One night I find a post about an older FWC in a junkyard in Denver. Because of the countless aforementioned hours down the rabbit hole on this site and elsewhere on the interwebs, I'm reasonably confident that I know what I'm looking at. It’s priced junkyard cheap.

“Who do we know in Denver?!” I asked my girlfriend.

“My cousin Julie lives in Denver,” she said.

“Cool– I met her once– what’s she up to tomorrow? I’ll pay her to clear her schedule!”

Ultimately, Julie is the hero of this story.

She showed up at opening, charmed the manager into bending a few rules, then bribed/flirted with the junkyard workers who removed it from its old Chevy via the junkyard forklift with repurposed seat belts as lifting straps (!!!). They stored it in a secure area until my transporter could pick it up the next day, then loaded it onto his trailer in the same way.

Keep in mind that this is all against policy– it’s a pull- your-own junkyard and parts are cash and carry. But Julie got it done, and she learned about FWCs.

“I kinda thought it was weird that you were willing to work so hard for this camper,” Julie said. “But I get it now– there was a line of people with trucks and trailers ready to buy it. Some of them were angry about the special treatment I was getting; the others offered to buy it from me!”

I'd called Julie on a Thursday evening. By midday Monday, this showed up in front of the GF’s house in New Orleans. She’d owned the place for three days– but a deal’s a deal!

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Looks like you have reasonably good bones to start with. Well done, and a particular well done for Julie.

Looks like the little green place across the street is a well kept New Orleans shotgun. Very nice!
 
Looks like you have reasonably good bones to start with. Well done, and a particular well done for Julie.

Looks like the little green place across the street is a well kept New Orleans shotgun. Very nice!
Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised by what pulled up-- decent canvas for the age, no wood rot (even has the original cabover board), and very minimal water intrusion in two window corners. The only major-ish issue is that the forward lift panel will need to be dealt with eventually--you can see that the PO trussed it up with some diamond plate.

You're right-- that shotgun house is nearly perfect. The Girlfriend and I, however, tend to buy "the worst house on the block" and put in the sweat equity. It helps to have that one across the street as a bit of a finish line!
 
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Here’s where the terms of my tenancy come into play.

I’d promised that I’d devote all of my “project energy” to the GF’s renovation, agreeing to wait to dive into the camper until after we were done with the house. The GF, who is an architect, estimated four months. Well, as renos on century-old houses go, particularly in New Orleans (note the “barge board” construction below), there were complications.
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There were three minor camper developments, though: 1) someone gave me a foldable utility trailer that makes a perfect camper dolly– highly recommend, 2) I took advantage of having a massive demolition dumpster on site to rid the camper of the bulky stuff I didn’t want to salvage, and 3) I picked up a set of the terrifying but generally effective tripod jacks (while on a trip to Oklahoma, no less– the jacks are about as rare as FWCs around here).

And so she sat, occasionally popped up and inspected, for almost a year to the date that it rolled (slid?) off the truck.

But then, this month, I finally got the green light from the Project Manager… erm… Girlfriend. So Oyster and I got to work tearing out the remaining carpet (so many staples!) and generally shop- vaccing and scrubbing. Having several renovations under my belt continued to pay dividends on the camper front in unexpected ways; not only do I have a varied assortment of not-necessarily-matching primer and paint remnants at my disposal, but I felt like I was flying through the initial interior refresh compared to the rate of progress on, you know, a house.

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A warning for those Type- A folks out there: my goal for this phase of the camper was to get it clean and usable.

This is for two reasons. The first is that, especially coming off the house project, I’d rather be using the camper than working on it. The second is that this is the first of many phases for this camper, and it will probably ultimately see a shortening and a re-skin. With that in mind, no, I do not particularly care that there are streaks in the mismatched primer on the inside of the cabinets that I will almost certainly not keep. Did I bother to get ALL of the contact adhesive off of the carpeted area? Nope, but Kilz primer is a wonderful thing. I mean no disrespect to those of you who put wood filler in the staple holes– that’s a remarkable level of dedication– but that’s beyond the scope and use-case that I envision for this project.

Even as I say things like this, I have to remind myself to stay off the overkill/perfectionism train– so please, dear readers of WTW, keep me accountable to make reasonable, functional improvements and go camping!

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